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Natural Awakenings North Central New Jersey

Graceful Aging: Living Longer, Healthier and More Fulfilled

Dec 29, 2023 06:30AM ● By Carrie Jackson
Tom O’Bryan, DC, DACBN, CIFM; Dr. Gladys McGarey; Deepak Chopra, M.D.

Photos courtesy of: theDR.com/gladysmcgarey.com/deepakchopra.com

People are living longer, and as we age, we increasingly become aware of a desire to remain healthy, vibrant and active for as long as possible. It’s about extending our health span as much as our lifespan. While genetics play a role in how we experience the aging process, advancements in science are helping us understand that how we manage our mindset, physical activity, stress levels and diet can have just as much of an impact. By redefining what it means to get older and finding deeper meaning, we can embrace aging with grace and gratitude, rather than resist it. Many factors are within our control, and it is possible to live a fulfilling and vibrant life well into our twilight years.

At nearly 103 years young, Dr. Gladys McGarey wrote the book on graceful aging. As the author of The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor's Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age, she suggests that we reframe aging as an opportunity rather than a loss, thereby pioneering a new way of thinking about disease and health. “At 102, I’m losing my eyesight, but my insight has improved,” says the cofounder of the American Holistic Medical Association. “I have trouble reading but can listen to audiobooks and have deep conversations with people. If we look for illness and pain at the end of life, that’s what our bodies will show us. But if we reach for health, joy, laughter and other realities of true humanity, that’s what we will find.”

McGarey asserts that our medical community is trained to eliminate pain and illness rather than learn from their messages. “If we can lean into what understanding a disease shows us, we can discover true wisdom,” she explains. “You can hold onto the pain, or you can hold onto what you learn from the pain. When my son was training to be an orthopedic surgeon, he confided that he was afraid to have people’s lives in his hands. I responded that if he thinks he’s the one who does the healing, he has a right to be scared. Doctors provide the technology to turn the healing over to the patient, and we have the core knowledge of what to do inside of us.”

McGarey is a firm believer that forgiveness is essential to freeing up stuck energy. Life has to move, she says, and letting go of feelings that may be lingering in our subconscious allows us to move forward with grace. “If we hang on to the dark places in our lives, we will get stuck. Pay attention to your dreams, both during the day and night, because they hold the truth. We all came here for a reason and have our life’s purpose. If you find that, you will always be fulfilled and can embrace the aging process instead of fighting it,” she says.

Renowned alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra, M.D., is an author, speaker and founder of the Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to research on well-being and humanitarianism. His latest book, Quantum Body: The New Science for Living a Longer, Healthier, More Vital Life, outlines how we can harness the power of the quantum body to significantly improve our physical and mental wellness, leading to a more fulfilling aging process. 

According to Chopra, our well-being depends entirely on the quantum field, which exists on a subatomic level and is the infinite source of everyday reality that affects our thoughts, feelings, sensations and biological responses. “Your quantum body is the central hub for every process that requires intelligence, just as a power plant is the central hub for everything that requires electricity. The prospect of having your quantum body fail you is far more serious than any single symptom of disease and aging. Well-being is weakened whenever there is a failure of intelligence and is strengthened when intelligence flows naturally,” he explains.

Disease and aging are further downstream in the intelligence flow, Chopra notes, and when someone succumbs to a heart attack or cancer, intelligence has failed in either the cardiovascular system or a single malignant cell. “Instead of being anxious about cells, tissues, organs and systems, which aren’t under your control, you can live from the source where all controls are overseen by your quantum body. Here, all information is perfect, the flow of intelligence is never wrong or distorted, and the creative possibilities for the future are boundless,” Chopra contends. 

One vital aspect of healthy aging that we can control is our approach to stress management, which Chopra says most people don’t take seriously enough. Stress can come from myriad sources, including family and social relationships; workplace stresses; a poor-quality diet; deficient sleeping habits; lack of exercise and downtime; and constant distractions from texting, video games and around-the-clock news reports. That is why it is more important than ever to develop tools for self-care.

“The frenetic pace of modern life has overwhelmed the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for all the processes, from heartbeat to respiration and digestion, that run independently of your conscious actions,” Chopra advises. “Medical research validates how essential stress management is, but what needs to change are socially ingrained attitudes that persuade us to tolerate stress beyond what our bodies and psyches are designed for.”

Chopra encourages prioritizing deep sleep, tuning into breath and awareness, and mindful exercises to return to our zero point—a state of rest from which activity springs. “Your awareness experiences the zero point as silent, calm, alert and pregnant with boundless possibilities, where you have access to your next thought,” he explains.

Embracing instead of resisting our quantum body further helps the energy flow. “The most natural way to live is in your dharma, or your truth,” Chopra says. “The greatest gift of self-awareness is that you can prove this to yourself every day by living with love, truth, beauty and bliss as your goal. Ultimate well-being requires no less, and living from your source reveals that the infinite is personal and within reach. Physical well-being exists if you are able to live a long life in good health; mental well-being exists if you retain clear, sharp thinking; psychological well-being exists if you are free of anxiety and depression; and spiritual well-being exists if your life has higher purpose and meaning.”

With more than 40 years of experience as a functional medicine doctor, Tom O’Bryan, DC, DACBN, CIFM, is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on chronic disease and metabolic disorders. He defines graceful aging as a state of full body function, without limitations and with rational expectations for what the body can do. O’Bryan points to the so-called Blue Zones, with an extraordinarily high percentage of people living into their 90s and above, as examples of those gracefully aging. “The lifestyle of people living in these areas includes daily rituals that reduce stress and reverse the inflammation associated with stress. As a result, they are able to live long, fruitful, happy lives as contributing and engaged members of society,” he notes.

O’Bryan believes that the greatest contribution to living a vital life is identifying and reducing the triggers of inflammation in our bodies, which can largely be accomplished with lifestyle modifications. “According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 of the top 15 causes of death are related to chronic inflammatory diseases. Many people address inflammation with medication, but they don’t realize that food is the best medicine,” he explains. “With diet being the largest source of inflammation activation in the body, it’s important to question what’s on the end of our fork and nourish the body with an anti-inflammatory diet, including berries, leafy greens, garlic, curcumin and plenty of pure water. Your body always wants to be healthier, and if we identify and reduce our exposure to the triggers of inflammation, the inflammation calms down.” 

Reducing inflammation also allows the central nervous system to settle into rest-and-digest mode, which can help the body age more gracefully. “Inflammation is the immune system’s response to harmful stimuli,” O’Bryan says. “An activated immune system is a life-saving, non-negotiable state that sets our sympathetic nervous system into fight-or-flight mode. When we are stressed or fighting for our lives, our heart rate is fast; our breathing is short, sharp and shallow; and our muscles are tight and ready for action. When inflammation decreases, our bodies are able to calm down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. In that very relaxed state, your heart rate is slow; your breath is deep; your muscles are relaxed; and your brain is open, expansive and daydreaming of new possibilities in life. That’s when healing and regeneration occurs.” 

Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.